Skepticism Reloaded

Amardeo Sarma

42 years have passed since the birth of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and its magazine Skeptical Inquirer. Soon after, there was a global wave in the spread of skepticism. A great visionary was at the centre of the explosion: Paul Kurtz, who saw skepticism as a global worldwide endeavour. The Australian Skeptics took off in 1980 with Mark Plummer as president. A decade later, in the mid-80s, CSICOP encouraged skeptics all over the world to form their groups. Mark Plummer, then Executive Director of CSICOP, and Wendy Grossman, founder of the magazine The Skeptic in the United Kingdom, toured Europe in this mission resulting in many new groups.

Paul Kurtz also defined skepticism as he saw fit for the movement in his book the New Skepticism. This variant is what we would now call scientific skepticism. It is distinct from the ancient Greek variety of skepticism that denied that we could acquire knowledge and wanted us not to take a stand, to suspend judgment.

Skeptics today do take a stand. They insist on skeptical inquiry, which is at the core of scientific research, as a fundamental and indisposable tool. At the same time, they also acknowledge that the body of science represents reliable knowledge of a real world. More importantly, they stand up and advocate what we know about science and pseudoscience, even when others including friends and colleagues frown on us. Skeptics today are committed to scientific realism.

Initially, the movement focused mainly on fringe science claims ignored by the scientific establishment. A decade ago, Kendrick Frazier, editor of the journal Skeptical Inquirer extended the scope. In the book “Science under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience”, he put the defence of science itself on the map. Publications and events organised by skeptics had been increasingly taking up anthropogenic global warming, GMOs and the anti-vaccination movement. Conspiracy theories are a recent addition.

With the 21st century of “alternative facts” well underway, new questions have come up.

But the time is ripe for a revitalising vision for the future. In this connection, Marco Kovic has posed questions in a recent blog. Which are issues we need to address?

We do need to begin by framing our cause and our identity as skeptics worldwide. Let us start from the very core.

Continue reading “Skepticism Reloaded”

Author: Amardeo Sarma
Date: 6th March 2018

Psi-Tests in Germany

This August, the German skeptics conducted their annual psi-tests. We tested two dowsers and a person claiming to have psychokinetic powers. The first dowser wanted to detect whether an electric cable was plugged in or not. We gave him 50 cables, randomly plugged in or not. The chance expectation obviously is 50/50, that is, 25 hits. His test yielded 26 hits. We required 40 to pass the test.

The second dowser was unable to do any indoor tests due to various “energetic disturbances”. We agreed to test him outdoors if he managed to find an area containing only one “water vein”, while the rest of the area was “clean”. Finding such a place on the surrounding lawn was surprisingly easy for him. We marked the “vein” with sticks. He was then blindfolded and walked around for disorientation (guided by a supervisor). He then had to cross the “water vein” from different vantage points and distances. He was also informed that in some cases he will be asked to walk without crossing the vein. In this case his dowsing rod should not move. The dowser did not have a single correct hit or non-hit in 15 trials.

The third claimant hoped to rotate, just by his psychokinetic powers, a 3 x 3 cm piece of tinfoil balancing on a needle. The needle with the foil was placed under a glass vase to prevent blowing or movements from natural air convection. During the pre-test phase it was obvious that the foil was only moving when he put his hands on the glass, probably causing air convection in the vase. When he kept his hands away from the glass, as he was supposed to in the actual test, nothing moved. And so there was no result in the real test either. -mm-

Skeptics’ Mass Suicide Attempt

Skeptics in several European cities have taken homeopathic overdoses today to show there’s nothing in it. Despite the lack of any active ingredients, manufacturers and homeopaths claim it becomes dangerous if the prescribed dosage of a homeopathically diluted and shaken remedy is consumed several times. But that’s a myth, the skeptics say, which they’ve gone to prove today.

The events are the latest edition of the 10:23 Campaign, first held by SKEPP in Ghent, Belgium in 2004. In 2010, the event was reinvented by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, and first named 10:23 after Avogadro’s number, in several British cities. In 2011, the campaign expanded to a worldwide protest against homeopathy, with people on all seven continents (yes, that includes Antarctica) across 30 countries in 70 cities, with at least 30 participants per city attempting to commit homeopathic suicide.

This video (German) was recorded by the GWUP skeptics in Hamburg, Germany. Simultaneous events happened in Prague (about 100 participants) and other Czech cities (Brno, Ostrava) and in Bratislava (about 60 participants), Slovakia. Everyone survived, just like in previous years.
An interview with the Czech Skeptics’ Club Sisyfos chairman Leoš Kyša can be read here (Czech).
This year’s event in the Prague took place in front of the Czech Ministry of Health.
Apart from the usual skeptic crowd, the event welcomed members of the Atheist of the Czech Republic, including their chairman Petr Tomek.

Other interesting participants were the three pro-homeopathy demonstrators, who were disgusted with the whole lot, and left soon after they found out none of the media – TV stations and newspeople – paid them any attention. Pets, cats and dogs, could have been spotted in the crowd, being given homeopathic remedies by their owners.

To make things a little more interesting, the Prague skeptics demonstrated the making of a homeopathic remedy, using rum as the original substance to be diluted.
In the end, even small children, participating in the even with their parents, were allowed to drink the homeopathic rum.
Outrageous?! Why? There’s nothing in it.

More photos: Lidovky

Article photos credits: Vendy



And the Golden Board 2016 goes to…!

The German-speaking skeptical society GWUP nominated three people/institutions for “the most bizarre, most outrageous, brashest pseudoscientific nonsense contribution” in Germany, Austria and Switzerland of 2016: Ryke Geerd Hamer (founder of the dangerous Germanische Neue Medizin), Roland Düringer (comedian turned politician who spreads lots of conspiracy theories) and Krebszentrum Brüggen-Bracht (alternative cancer clinic of Heilpraktiker Klaus Ross). The award is called the ‘Golden Board in Front of the Face’, to rebuke purveyors of pseudoscience who don’t see the harm they’re doing.

The award ceremony was held on 11 October in Vienna, co-organised by the Viennese regional GWUP group Society for Critical Thinking (Gesellschaft für kritisches Denken) and the Freethinkers League of Austria (Freidenkerbund Österreich). A side-event was held in Hamburg Skeptics in the Pub with a livestream of the Viennese ceremony.

Nominees for the Golden Board 2016

This year’s nominees for the GWUP’s ironic award Goldenes Brett vorm
Kopf (‘Golden Board in Front of the Face’) are:

  • Ryke Geerd Hamer – founder of the dangerous Germanische Neue Medizin (Germanic New Medicine);
  • Roland Düringer – a comedian who has entered politics and spreads all kinds of conspiracy theories;
  • Krebszentrum Brüggen-Bracht – the alternative cancer clinic of Heilpraktiker Klaus Ross, where at least three patients died recently after receiving fatal injections that have stirred up controversy.

The website receives the Golden Board Lifetime Achievement Award (Goldenes Brett fürs Lebenswerk).

The annually awarded Golden Board honours “the most bizarre, most outrageous, brashest pseudoscientific nonsense contribution of the year in German-speaking countries.” This year’s winner will be presented on 11 October in Vienna, Austria.

More information in GermanSamenvatting in het Nederlands